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1905 Stanford Merthyr Mine

Case Study

On Sunday 29 October 1905 there was a fire and subsequent explosions at Stanford Merthyr mine, near Kurri Kurri NSW, killing six workers and injuring nine others.

Stanford Merthyr mine was an underground coal mine employing close to 400 workers. At the time of the incident it was producing approximately 600,000 tonnes of coal per annum using the bord and pillar method of extraction and had three tunnels. The main tunnel was used for hauling coal and air intake; the travelling tunnel was used by workers and also as an air intake and the fan tunnel drew the air out of the mine.

At 2am on Sunday morning an engine driver on shift on the surface discovered flames bursting from one of the tunnels and dense volumes of smoke from another. There were no workers underground at the time and he raised the alarm to locate and seal off the fire. The flames were found to be 45 metres down the main tunnel and had reached a height of 30 metres. At 11.30am as the sealing of the main tunnel was thought to be controlling the fire, there was a major explosion killing company director, Mr Henry J Adams as he stood near the tunnel mouth along with five other workers. The explosion was heard as far away as East and West Maitland. A second explosion occurred later in the afternoon with no injuries sustained.

The Inquest

An inquest was held and the jury found that the explosion was caused by gas generated from fire in the mine coming into contact with a flame, but the evidence was not sufficient to show the origin of the fire. It was considered that management took every reasonable precaution for the safety of the workers under the existing conditions. Certain risk factors were identified such as the practice of smoking and carrying matches underground, and that open flame lamps could be an ignition source in areas where pockets of gas had been observed.

This incident claimed the lives of 6 people: Henry J Adams (70), John Evans (38), George Fewins (34), James Greener (48), David Jones (50), John W Jones (43).

Fire or explosion is a principal hazard and methane levels must be controlled and monitored

Mine and petroleum site operators must prepare a principal hazard management plan which provides for the management of all aspects of risk control in relation to the principal hazards of fire or explosion (refer clause 24, Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Regulation 2014-the Regulation). Clause 72 of the Regulation sets out requirements for controlling and monitoring methane levels at underground coal mines.